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1: We light a candle for lives lost—for laughter cut short, voices that will never again be heard; for hugs unraveled by death. We light a candle for a broken future—made incomplete without loved ones lost.
2: Rev. Clementa Pickney
3: Cynthia Hurd
4: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
2: Tywanza Sanders
1: Ethel Lance
3: Susie Jackson
4: Depayne Middleton Doctor
2: Rev. Daniel Simmons
3: Myra Thompson
1: May light perpetual shine upon them.
2: We light a candle for American dreams deferred. For insufficient funds in the bank of justice…for our worst selves denying our greatest promise as a nation.
3: We light a candle for Charleston,
1: New York
3: and Ferguson—cities without innocence now known by the malignant refusal of the few to see the compounding value of all.
4: We light a candle for Dallas. Racism has grit in Dallas. Racism has claimed lives here. Racism has claimed dignity here. The swollen flow of racism through this state threatens to overflow the banks of our well-divided districts.
1: We light a candle for Dylann Roof—a shooter who was not born to kill, but pulled a trigger thirty-nine times.
4: thirty-nine times!
1: We pray that this is not the end of his story.
2: We light a candle of solidarity. We do not stand alone. We share the same light with millions who came before and many millions who walk after us on the march to a promised land yet unseen, long discussed but that already extends long arms of life and hope into our present reality.
3: We light a candle for the church.
1: The blood that now stains the wood panel floors of the church call out to God.
2: The blood that has far too often run in the streets now runs in our churches.
4: We can no longer hide behind our pulpits.
3: We light this candle to poke at privilege, speak hard truths, be less complacent as a church ablaze for the God of justice whose patience wears thin with those who ‘proclaim peace, peace when there is no peace.’
4: We light a candle for ‘Emanuel’
3: which means ‘God with us’
4: in prayer that God will, indeed, be with us in this time. God does not shy away from tragedy. God is not intimidated by bullets or bombs. God is not deterred by those who insist white privilege isn’t real. God is with us.
1: Most importantly, we light all of these candles for hope—as a sign of rebellion against the darkness that threatens to consume us. For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, will not, can not overcome it.
People sometimes ask me what it means to be a community curator at a place like Union. Thank God, it includes going to stuff like this:
It smelled like sweat, lady shampoo and Barefoot Wine in a basement theater of Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University as Ten Bitches (no, they weren’t all women) took the stage on the last day of classes at midnight. Their goal: present 30 plays in one hour, selected in random order by the audience. Also they wanted to surprise, break down the 4th wall, dance, laugh and draw mustaches on everyone in the audience.
The show was light and fast. As soon as one play ended, audience members shouted out the number for the next. This breakneck pace kept a bunch of stressed out, ADD college kids engaged. The plays varied but were consistently creative. #12, The Grinch, featured Cindy Lou and the dog, Max, bedside to a hospitalized Grinch. A doctor enters the scene to deliver the bad news: Grinch isn’t likely to make it because of the complications caused by his heart growing three times its normal size. #28, Basement Dancing, invited everyone up on stage to dance to an audience members favorite song. Actors interacted with crowd members throughout and the audience sometimes played unscripted roles that built upon the evening. During #24, Free After Ten, an actor said, “I need a new man,” prompting a guy in the audience to shout, “amen.”
The banter cut quickly during #8, Ledge Talk (brilliantly written by Mei Mei Pollitt). In fact, the room went silent. A brave actress stepped onto stage, wearing nothing but bra and boyshorts. She sat on a ledge, with a man standing off at a perceived distance. “What does it do to you to see so much flesh” she asked the man or maybe the audience. The two actors raised questions about commitment, sexuality and God. This led to the only awkward moment of the night—not because things got serious. The room needed a dose of serious to break up the train of frivolity. The awkward moment came when the actors shouted scene and no one wanted to shout out another number for the next play. They just wanted to applaud or wipe away the unexpected tears.
I’m not an SMU student, but I help run Union, a coffee shop nearby to SMU and some of the actors for Ten Bitches are regulars. They show up at Union’s events and it seemed right to show up at theirs. I came to Ten Bitches to support some friends. I left with insight into the weird subculture that is The Meadows School of the Arts.
These students instinctively know how to take care of each other. There’s no extra credit or graduation awards for putting on a performance like Ten Bitches and a Stage. They filled the stage on the last day of classes to do for their fellow students what theater does best—Sabbath. Ten Bitches gave fifty students the chance to breathe, laugh, dance, celebrate and mock the world that threatens to define them.
If you hear rumors of ten bitches taking the stage again, grab a friend, wander around the basement of Meadows until you find them and enjoy what the bitches have to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
Last night I had the honor of offering an opening prayer at La Cena, an All Saints Feast put together by Cafe Momentum and House of Plates. Here’s the prayer that I wrote. Please feel free to use it for churches or other celebrations (churches may want to substitute “today” for “tonight”)
Tonight we remember the saints
And give thanks for the way they shaped us. May we mold the world according to their witness.
Tonight we remember the saints
And give thanks for the way they loved us. May we reflect their light, long after their lives have slipped into darkness.
Tonight we remember the saints
And pray we be remembered like them. For this fleeting flesh will not last, but the fossil remain of our work will surely linger and give shape to the coming age.
Tonight we remember the saints
And savor their memory as we do this meal. May we be nourished by this food, nourished by their memory so that we might serve the world in a way that brings light to darkness food to hunger courage to victim flesh to bone water to thirst life to death.
Tonight we remember the saints
and give thanks to God, the giver of death.
Tonight we remember the saints
and give thanks to God, the giver of life.
Confession # 1: I Crash Landed the Plane & Thought No One Noticed
Tuesday’s sermon was great. I was super excited about it because the kuneo planning team (‘kuneo’ is the name of our worship gathering) had come up with some really great insights into our surrounding culture, plus we had a super sexy title:
Jesus Wants to Save You from the Zombie Super Apocalypse
Things were going great…we had congregational participation and laughter. Our conversations around zombies revealed some of our greatest fears and weaknesses as a society and as individuals. All of us (including myself) recognized things from which we need to be saved.
I remembered the convicting words of my friend, Maria Dixon-Hall in a recent blog rant. I decided, I am going to proclaim that Jesus saves. I am going to own the fact that I need to be saved just as much as someone who’s life is obviously in shambles. My brokenness is much more hidden than this guys
, but it’s just as real. I need Jesus to save me because I can’t do it on my own. So I told everyone to spend some time acknowledging the parts of their lives that are zombie-esque, choose to live differently and, if it seems overwhelming, trust that Jesus can save you from the zombie-infected parts of your soul.
Here’s the problem:
- I never explained how Jesus saves us
- I never offered guidance on what people should do to get Jesus to save them
- Although I did expand people’s understanding of salvation to include being saved from very real practical realities TODAY and not just far off salvation after people die, I essentially defaulted to a Christian cliche that “Jesus will save you” as if that statement makes sense on its own.
I thought it was a good, inspirational landing, but in actuality I hit the tarmack so hard that the baristas had to scrape people off the ceiling who had failed to fasten their seatbelts.
Confession # 2 : Sometimes the Church Acts Like the Producers of LOST
(warning: LOST spoilers)
I will always be annoyed at the people who made the show LOST. They started the show with some really good ideas and then decided that they would let the story write itself. They didn’t know where they were going…and that was okay with me. I think it is cool to create a universe and see where it takes you–whether you’re telling a story, writing a TV show or theologizing. This is what’s not okay with me: LOST fell apart at the end. The producers knew it, the actors knew it and good God, almighty, the audience knew it too. But here’s the great sin: they spit in my coffee and called it sugar! LOST pretended like their crazy storyline made sense (it didn’t…come on, unless the lights in my parent’s pool are magical, an icy wheel that combines light and water shouldn’t be able to create rifts in the space-time continuum of the universe) and with a smug look on their faces, pretended like the ending was their plan all along.
This is crap: “ha ha ha, all these flash sideways (what the heck is a flash sideways, BTWs) are from the afterlife. It all makes sense because no one knows what happens in the afterlife so it doesn’t have to make sense. Thank you for watching our program for 6 years.”
At the end of my sermon, I pulled a LOST. I said stuff like “Jesus saves” as if that makes sense in and of itself. But it doesn’t. I ought to respect the intellect of my congregation enough to acknowledge that. I ought to be honest enough about my own shortcomings as a theologian to acknowledge to the room that I don’t know how Jesus saves us and I don’t really know what it means.
I get all sorts of self-righteous and dismissive of churches that throw out our own theological constructs as if they make sense…and I did the same thing.
Confession # 3 : I Need Honest, Smart People to Help Me Become a Better Preacher …(the Church Might Need Some Honest, Smart Critics to Help Her Become Better Too)
Thank God for people like Rachel, Jonathan, Robert, Jennifer, Katie, Michelle and Shane who went with me to grab a drink after worship. They loved me, were honest about the places the sermon connected and then owned the hard landing. Here’s the really magical thing about these people who I absolutely adore: they didn’t just talk about the hard landing. They entered into dialogue with me as we figured out, together, how we could have smoothed out the landing. We set up the flight simulator and they jumped into the cockpit with me. Instead of throwing out this notion that “Jesus saves” instead I could have ended with any of the following:
I don’t know how Jesus saves, but I do know that God saved the people in the Bible from zombie-like influences of wanton greed, mass consumption, violence, ignorance and more. I’m just crazy enough to believe that God the stories in the Bible can help save us too. I’m hoping that we can figure it out together.
If you have zombie infections in your soul, I know that Jesus has something to offer because Jesus has something to say about our warring madness and violence as a society. Jesus has something to say about our materialism. Jesus has something to say about our wanton consumerism. Jesus has something to say about our willingness to blatantly ignore the needs of others in order to pursue our own wants. There is salvation in Jesus’ words and wisdom!
I know I’ve thrown out this concept that Jesus saves. And I know we’ve all heard it. And I know that none of us probably really know what it means. In the next several weeks, we’re going to explore the practical ways that Jesus saves and see if we can get a better understanding of what it’s all about.
Confession # 4 : Pretend Perfect
I was going to sit down tonight and write out the sermon (I still plan to do so), but what stopped me in my tracks is that I planned to fix the ending, without qualification or confession. Instead I wrote this blog. Hopefully, I’ll find time to post the sermon later. I want to be honest and transparent in my preaching.
I told Rachel Bryan, tonight on the phone, “if I ever throw something out there like that again, call me on it–but don’t wait an hour. Call me on it in worship. Maybe we can figure it out on the spot instead of at the bar a couple hours later.” Praise God that she, and others like her, will be brave enough to do so.
The latest stage for the debate over homosexuality, religion and culture has taken up to roost in the land of deep fried chicken and I think it’s time we all took a breath. The inevitable backlash against the hype is growing and in the midst of this chicken fried kerfuffle, I’m left wondering…what is God up to in all this?
Dear Democratic and Republican Extremists…
Extremist Democratic city mayors, please stop it. Stop it right now. Since when did the party that encourages civil liberties become the party that bans restaurants because of what their owners believe? Does the owner of a Chili’s have to submit to a personal beliefs inventory before opening in Chicago, San Francisco or Boston? What you’re doing is discriminatory. Shame on you.
Extremist Republican pundits, please stop it. Stop it right now. People boycotting Chick-Fil-A because they disagree with the organization is supports isn’t restricting anybody’s free speech. If people were boycotting the news organization for airing the interview or if they were suing Mr. Kathy (it feels weird to write “Mr.” followed by “Kathy”) for what he said, that would be a violation of free speech. You can protest the protesters all you want, but let’s own up to what this issue is about.
Straining at Pennies
Let’s just be honest about this. Those who have chosen to boycott Chick-Fil-A are people who do no want a portion of a penny from their lunchtime purchase to support causes that are discriminatory against the GLBT community. They aren’t protesting Mr. Kathy’s ideas (well, some might…but I don’t get the impression that’s what this is about). They just don’t want their money to go to something with which they disagree. This is an act of conscious–not an effort to limit someone’s free speech.
Those who do continue to eat at Chick-Fil-A are people who are okay with a portion of a penny going to support causes that are discriminatory against GLBT community. While I do not discount the hurt felt by many in the GLBT community (and I am deeply appreciative of Rev. Eric Folkerth’s blog for raising the ways in which this can be hurtful to many who are GLBT), not everyone who eats at Chick-Fil-A wants gay people to suffer, nor do they necessarily want gay people to be discriminated against. Their brain has just decided (consciously or not) that they are okay with a portion of a penny going to causes that act on the belief that homosexuality is wrong. While I acknowledge the hurt this causes for some folks in the GLBT community, I’ve also seen posts like these from gay friends of mine whom I respect:
- A couple pennies went to support the 2012 Olympics
- A portion of a penny contributed towards Brazilian deforestation
- A portion of a penny supported Ronald McDonald House that affords parents of sick kids the chance to be with their children over extended hospital stays
- Several pennies went to McDonalds marketing which is responsible for significant increases in childhood obesity, early onset of type II diabetes and Lord knows what else.
- A couple pennies supported jobs for unskilled workers who will likely cycle out of their job in the next 6-12 months
- Several pennies went to make really rich people a lot richer while their minimum wage employees are paid a pittance and can barely scrape out a living
- A portion of a penny went to a potato farmer and his family.
The reality is, all of our purchases have an impact on our world. In our increasingly globalized economy, our money trails grow longer while the world gets smaller. Chick-Fil-A’s decision to provide money to discriminatory organizations is just what has our attention right now.
Our money spreads through the globe–some of it doing good things, others doing bad and sometimes I’m paralyzed by the weight of responsibility that flows out of my wallet. I can’t possibly keep track of it all! Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air, make my own food and live on a commune.
Sometimes I wonder if our efforts to strain at portions of pennies is like straining at gnats. Rev. Frank Drenner spoke of it well on his blog:
There will still be the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there will still be folk who question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer will have nothing to do with fast food.
The Sad Thing
A very tiny percentage of purchases at Chick-Fil-A go to support these controversial organizations.
If McDonald’s announced that tomorrow, 1% of all revenue would support clean water initiatives in Africa or to build Domestic Violence shelters around the world, would we see lines like we saw at Chick-Fil-A?
For all I know, 1% of McDonald’s revenue might already support non-profit organizations. Sadly, I don’t believe we’d see that kind of turnout. Even so, I’m staking my ministry and money (and other people’s money) on the notion that we can call people to something better.
What God is Doing
When I look at this controversy, I give thanks to God–not for one side or the other, but for the debate as a whole. There is clearly a growing desire among people to know where their money is going. People are waking up to the awareness that how they spend their money is both a spiritual and moral matter. Thanks be to God! That sounds like the kind of thing that the church and Jesus can work with! The challenge to the church: can we address this growing sense of financial responsibility and morality? Can we find ways to preach about this tomorrow and engage people with economic spirituality while the spirit is moving?
I’m not interested in straining at economic gnats, but I am deeply interested in supporting businesses that put money to kingdom work. That’s what we’re trying to do with our new kind of new church start, Union—a coffee house that will adopt different causes every quarter with 10% of all revenue (not profits…revenue) going to non-profit agencies that do good things. Good things like:
- Addressing Domestic Violence in ways that assist children, victims and abusers
- Helping the homeless in Dallas
- Eradicating Malaria
- Rebuilding communities after natural and political disasters
We’re not straining at pennies. We’re talking about quarters and dollars from every purchase. By 2015 we hope to donate over $200,000 to non profit agencies. We’re hoping that Dallasites will consider where they want their moony to go and will choose to purchase their beverages and food at Union.
Every purchase also helps to sponsor ministry with young people in Dallas so that the community can benefit from positive interaction between the established church and surrounding culture.
Union isn’t the first to do this. Newman’s Own, Tom’sand others have taken up such endeavours. I pray that we have more businesses like them where significant portions of our funds can support causes that make a significant positive difference in our world. I pray that Christians can encourage such positive business development so that the marketplace can be a place of justice, of hope and of love.